Martin Whitmarsh Q&A: Second won't do - McLaren must win 13 Jan 2011
With five world champions preparing to slug it out, the forthcoming 2011 season is a mouth-watering prospect. And of those five champions, two - Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button - line up for McLaren for a second year. Both were in the 2010 title hunt until late in the year, and McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh is determined to build on that performance with the teams new MP4-26 car, which features fresh design features, as he explained exclusively to Formula1.com
Q: As we look forward to the new season, how do you rate your teams performance in 2010?
Martin Whitmarsh: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes mission is a unilateral one: to win. We won five Grands Prix last year, including three one-two finishes, and we came second in the constructors championship, significantly ahead of our traditional rivals, Ferrari. But although many teams would be more than satisfied with that performance, we werent and arent. As I say, our mission is to win, and winning five Grands Prix and coming second in the constructors championship doesnt constitute enough of a win for us. It goes without saying that this year we aim to do better. Having said that, last year there were lots of positives. Season-long, our car wasnt quite as quick as Red Bulls, but it was quicker over the course of the year than anyone elses. Moreover, both our drivers performed extremely well, combining controlled aggression with an astute grasp of on-the-fly tactics. Not only were they very quick, but they also demonstrated good race craft too.
Q: Only one of your drivers can be world champion in 2011. Isnt it wise to marshal all your resources behind just one of them to achieve that goal?
MW: McLaren goes into every season committed to providing both our drivers with an equal opportunity to win. Weve enjoyed an enormous amount of success in our 45-year history; since our first Grand Prix in 1966 weve won 25 percent of the Grands Prix weve started, and at least one of our drivers has stood on the podium in more than 50 percent of them. Weve won eight constructors championships and 12 drivers championships. What has underpinned that track record of success is our ability to attract and retain the very best drivers in the sport. Youre very unlikely to obtain the services of two top drivers if one or both of them fear that they may be called upon to comply with team orders. We certainly have two top drivers today - two world champions who between them have won 23 Grands Prix, started from pole position 25 times and taken 67 podium finishes. Not only that, theyre genuinely friendly and cooperative with each other, and that represents a genuine performance dividend for us. We certainly couldnt have hired the two of them unless they could be utterly confident of receiving equal treatment. So the answer to your question is no: we wont marshal all our resources behind just one of our drivers, to quote your phrase. On the contrary, our equal-treatment philosophy has worked for us in the past, it works for us now and it will work for us in the future.
Q: Why will your new car not be ready for the first test?
MW: The MP4-26 is on schedule and will be launched on February 4, after which it will go through the normal testing processes. We feel that timetable is optimal with regard to providing Jenson and Lewis with the best possible package for the first race in Bahrain on March 13. And that will be just the beginning of a progressive and rigorous development programme that will continue right up until the Brazilian Grand Prix on November 27.
Q: Will it be a bold new design?
MW: There are new regulations for 2011 - and the MP4-26 will not only adhere to them but it will also sport a few fresh design features in response to the opportunities presented by those new regulations. So, yes, there will be some new elements, but as you can imagine Im not prepared to add more detail at the moment!
Q: There has been much speculation about other teams trying to lure Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull. Is McLaren interested?
MW: As Ive said, were delighted with Jenson and Lewis. Without a shadow of a doubt, in my opinion, theyre the best driver line-up in the sport today. In fact I suspect theyre the envy of every team - including Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz.
Q: Will the 2013 engine regulations have a positive or negative impact on the sport?
MW: We at McLaren are unequivocally in favour of 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engines as outlined recently by the FIA. Theyll be every bit as powerful in terms of bhp as the 2.4-litre V8s we currently run, and theyll be of considerably more interest and value to car manufacturers in terms of the learning opportunities they present for optimising fuel efficiency and performance. Its my firm belief that F1 can in that way offer car manufacturers a platform onto which they can focus a significant part of their drive-train development energies - something that other sports, which may seem on the surface to be more environmentally friendly, could never do. For example, youll never develop a leaner, greener engine by hitting a golf ball or kicking a football - but car manufacturers should, can and will be able to do exactly that with the FIAs new Formula One engine regulations. Lastly, Formula One has already successfully reduced its total carbon emissions, according to a comprehensive and independent audit conducted by Trucost, a world leader in the field of carbon emissions assessment, and we believe the FIAs new Formula One engine regulations will help our sport to meet or better its targets for the future.
Q: How strong is Formula One racings economic health, given the effects of the global recession?
MW: Theres no doubt that Formula One, along with all other sports and industries, has felt the effects of the global recession. However, the Resource Restriction Agreement is something that we should all be proud of because it has delivered significant cost savings across the board. It has been a major factor in helping teams not just survive but also thrive in these difficult times. As for us, Im delighted to say that our team continues to offer a fantastic return on investment, as demonstrated by our title partners recent decision to sign a new multi-year deal with us. And as part of our ongoing relationship with Vodafone, well be developing technical collaborations as well as finding exciting and innovative ways in which to engage with their customers. Their corporate slogan is Power To You, and were aiming to help provide some of that power! Vodafone has been our title partner since 2007, and we pride ourselves on being able to offer fantastic returns on investment for all our partners over a long period. TAG Heuer has been with us for 25 years and Hugo Boss for 30 years - and I believe its pretty impressive that one sporting entity can boast not one but two of the longest sports sponsorships of all time, and that those partnerships are still ongoing and are still delivering fantastic value. It would be remiss of me to make any bold statements or predictions about economic recovery in the wider world, but I believe that Formula One in general and Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in particular have a great deal to offer investors, not only in terms of PR, marketing and brand positioning but also in terms of technical collaboration.
Q: Lastly, will the 2011 season be a four-team race between Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes?
MW: The 2010 season could be said to have been a three-team race (Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari) and undoubtedly it was a very exciting one. I wouldnt be at all surprised if 2011 were to involve those three teams - and others besides. Youve mentioned Mercedes-Benz - and we at McLaren know all too well, having worked closely with them since 1995, what a powerful and effective racing force they are. Equally, Ross Brawn and his team, plus Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, are very impressive too. So it would be no surprise to see them mounting a more significant challenge in 2011 than they did in 2010. As ever, its impossible to make firm predictions, but we think were on course to be competitive. Having said that, we never underestimate our opposition and were sure theyre working every bit as hard as we are.